16 Stress-Free Feeding Tips
1. Get more from the fibre you feed
If horses and ponies can get more nutrition from forage, less bucket feed is usually required to maintain or promote weight gain. This benefits their digestive systems and your bank account. Digestive-enhancing supplements, such as yeast, have been shown to help horses get more out of the fibre they eat, which can be helpful for keeping weight on in winter months.
2. Buy large tubs and share
Vitamin and mineral supplements are a cost-effective way to top up on essential nutrients if you are feeding less than the recommended amount of mix or cubes. To get even better value for money, why not buy a large tub with a friend and share it? You don’t have to pay out a large amount up front on your own, and will still benefit from the better value that larger tubs offer. If you have only one horse or pony, it also means you will go through the product more quickly, and use it by the ‘best before date’.
3. Opt for an alternative to soaking hay
In winter, soaking hay can be a real chore as taps and water-filled buckets may freeze up. There are alternatives, however, which are easier to manage in colder weather. Steaming is one option and reseach has shown that doing this in a commercial steamer reduces respiravle particles just as effectively as soaking. It also has the added benefit of reducing the number of bacteria in the hay, while soaking increases bacteria counts. If investing in a commercial steamer isn’t viable, there is a wide range of chopped fibre feeds that can be used as complete or partial hay replacers – and they don’t need to be soaked. Click here to read more about Dengie hay replacers.
4. Feed a low-fizz energy source
Cold or windy weather can fizz a horse up, especially if he is clipped out. And stabling him for longer periods could also result in a livelier ride. Use fibre and oil as energy sources in the feed to combat these factors. They provide slow-release energy, compared with the starch found in cereals. Even low-energy mixes and cubes can contain 20 per cent starch – that’s 10 times more than is typically found in fibre feeds. Dengie Alfa-A Oil, is made from pure alfalfa with a splash of rape seed oil, it provides 12.5MJ/kg of slow-release energy which is equivalent to a conditioning or competition mix.
5. Entertain your horse
Stabling for longer means feeding more forage. Research has shown that offering a variety of forages and fibrous material to horses not only provides a more stimulating environment, but it allows them to demonstrate more natural foraging behaviour. Place tubs of chopped fibre alongside your horse’s hay or haylage ration and hang swedes or hazel twigs around the stable for him to graze on. Hazel is a common woodland tree or shrub, so go for a walk to forage for cuttings, which you can then hang in your horse’s stable.
6. Feed little and often
We all know the rule of little and often when it comes to bucket feeding, but this can apply to forage too. Nearly all horses and ponies can be fed ab-lib hay or haylage, but if you have a good doer this will probably result in excessive weight gain. To avoid your equine piling on the pounds, feeding him a number of small haynets over a period of time is the way forward. It enables you to control his calories, and reduce the time he spends without any forage. If you can’t get to the yard during the lunchtimes or last thing at night, could you get together with other owners and take it in turns?
7. Weigh your horse, weigh your feed
Feeding too little is an obvious reason for a horse to lose weight. If you haven’t weighed your feed or your horse lately, now is the time to do so. Combine weight taping with body condition scoring every couple of weeks to monitor your horse’s weight from season to season.
8. Centrally heat your horse
Feeding fibre is the best way to keep horses warm in the winter months as heat is produced when fibre is digested or fermented in the digestive system.
9. Shift some blubber
Nature intended horses to lose weight during the winter and without seasonal weight loss they get fatter, increasing the risk of laminitis.
10. Go easy on OAPs
If you have a veteran with bad teeth, seek out softer, leafy hays. These will be easier to chew and more digestible, which will help the horse get more nutrition from forage. Dengie Hi-Fi Senior is ideal for veterans, formulated to be soft and easier to chew, it contains a blend of alfalfa and grass.
11. Show tough love
For good doers, feed tougher hay which is harder to digest and therefore less likely to cause weight gain. The less nutritious the hay is, the more a good doer can have without putting on weight.
12. Monitor his drinking
When it’s really cold, some horses can be put off drinking, which increases the risk of dehydration and colic. Adding a flavouring to water might help or simply making the water warm can encourage some horses to drink. Dengie Alfa-Beet is also a great way aid hydration in the winter.
13. Watch out for winter laminitis
Sugar levels can accumulate in pasture on cold, bright mornings. This is because grass photosynthesises (produces sugar) but doesn’t grow – and it is the growing process that would normally use up sugar. If your horse or pony is prone to laminitis you should try to avoid turning him out during these conditions.
14. Make a plan
If your horse lost weight last winter, feed a conditioning mix or nuts as soon as the grass quality declines or the weather gets colder, and slowly increase the levels. Weigh your horse regularly so you can spot any changes early.
15.Replace lost salts
Hunting, competing and travelling all use up electrolytes, even in winter. Using a supplement will help reduce the risk of the onset of fatigue and muscle problems.
16. Feed highly digestible fibre
Changing from highly digestible grass to hay or haylage, which are harder to digest, can cause weight loss. Conserved forages also contain much less water than pasture. Adding sugar beet will provide extra, highly digestible fibre and increase water intake, as it has to be soaked.